"Serge" presents micro-shows in front of a macro-audience at the Walker Art Center
The Walker Art Center concluded its month long "Out There" series with "L'effet de Serge" by Philippe Quesne and Vivarium Studio. According to the Walker website, "L'Effet de Serge is a surprisingly humorous and touching tribute to the pleasures and the necessity of art."
Well, not everyone agreed. While critic Jay Gabler found the show enchanting, Rohan Preston found the show lacking and Ed Huyck deemed it pretentious. Read on for excerpts of their reviews, or click on the links to read them in their entirety.
A little glimpse into the life of Serge is all L'Effet promises, and it delivers beautifully on that promise.
If anything, L'Effet almost dares you to be bored. The set is plain: a finished but unadorned basement, with a sliding door opening onto a driveway. In this basement dwells Serge (Gaëtan Vourc'h), a 40ish man who says little and does little. He watches TV, he orders pizza. He has some toys, with which he occasionally plays. Is Serge quite right in the head? Maybe, maybe not. [Director Phillipe] Quesne doesn't invite a diagnosis: this is Serge, and this is what Serge does.
Every Sunday evening, Serge invites one or more friends over for a performance lasting from one to three minutes. The friends range from a young couple in a Smart car to a middle-aged man on a bike, and they all graciously, quietly thank Serge for his hospitality. I won't reveal what the nature of the performances is, but each involves music and a simple prop. At L'Effet's climax, the friends all gather together at Serge's house for a display of pyrotechnics.
L'Effet is the final work to be presented in the Walker's Out There series, which this year spotlights European artists. (Quesne is French.) Among the four, L'Effet employs the least theatrical trickery--except for a little fog, there are really no special effects to speak of. We simply watch Serge go about his business, and after the climactic performance, we watch for a long time as Serge's friends finish their wine, chat quietly, eat a little pizza (Serge apparently favors Pizza Lucé), and leave.
Wittingly or not, artists sometimes deliver work that supports the argument that the arts are marginal. I had that thought as I laughed along to the minimalist, sly stage doodlings of performer Gaëtan Vourc'h at Walker Art Center Thursday night.
...Under director Philippe Quesne, Vourc'h reveals a character who is a cousin of that Rowan Atkinson creation, Mr. Bean. Serge is a misfit ill-at-ease with his tolerant guests, who stretch to offer compliments about shows that have a sense of teenage anxiety. They happen so fast, they seem to be over before they begin.
Serge's shows, an implicit critique of shortened attention spans and the inflated language and indirection that people resort to when talking about performance, remind me of opening-night awkwardness at less-than-successful productions. How did you like the show? Well, that was really something else (and nothing else).
In the performance notes for L'effet de Serge, the finale of the Walker Art Center's Out There 2011, the production by Vivarium Studio is described as turning "theatrical conventions upside down as it blends reality and artifice, superimposing varying levels of presence and questioning the nature of representation while taking a dispassionate look at human beings, their needs for each other and their reliance on a poetic spirit to transcend mundane lives of sometimes stupefying insignificance."
That, my friends, is a Level Five Pretentious Alert. And the klaxons and aurooga horns playing in my head as the lights went down last night truly were a warning. L'effet de Serge is a Jekyll and Hyde proposition: Parts of it (maybe 15 minutes) are innovative, thrilling, and funny; the rest of it (about an hour) is mind-numbing tedium.
The time between the performances--or even little onstage jokes--stretches on to what seems infinite. It doesn't help that the dialogue goes beyond naturalist to simply being inaudible to the audience, which makes it seem like the performers are having a private moment onstage. Does this mean I can do the same? Answer my emails? Strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to me about pretentious French art?
This is probably all about the emotional disconnection of modern life and the artifice of performing onstage. There's nothing at all wrong with exploring those subjects, but it seems pretty cynical to pad out your show with 10 minutes of people sharing small talk and eating Pizza Luce.
So, did you make it to "L'effet de Serge?" If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.